Thursday, May 29, 2014

Great Savannah Endurance Challenge

I don't really know where to start with this race report.  My goal for months has been to break 120 miles in the 24 hour and qualify for the national team.  This weekend I broke 133 miles...national team spots go to the top performances so I'm not guaranteed a place, but I have a chance.  I also set a new GA state women's record, and hit new PRs in the 50 mile (7:59), 100K (9:59:15), and 100 mile (17:09).  I should be incredibly excited, but to be honest I'm just numb.  I'm exhausted, as I still haven't been sleeping or eating as much as I should since the race.  Also I'm half-convinced that this didn't really happen, or somehow doesn't really count.  I'll need official confirmation with USATF before I can believe it.  And of course then there's my normal post-race depression/emotional lability.  I'm tempted to wait until it all "sinks in" before writing a race report, but I probably should do it while it's pretty fresh in my here goes!

Saturday morning I got to sleep until past 5am- benefits of actually getting to run an ultra in my own town!  Alec and I got out to Hutchinson Island by 6am and set up my things along with my Lowcountry Ultras buddies, Tim, Bren, and Sara.  Besides having Alec to crew, I also had my friend Katie, who would take over for Alec while he ran his 6-hour race during the night.  On top of that support I had quite a few other friends running and volunteering, which always helps!  I still started crying from nerves before the race started though.

I had a pretty good plan for the race, written down for Alec and Katie.  I knew the slowest part of the day should be from about noon to 6pm, as that would be the hottest time.  Each lap was 2.213 miles (although GPS showed it shorter, that's what USATF certified it at- so I defer to their measurement!), and my number 1 goal was 60 laps- 132.78 miles.  I would attempt 3 laps/hour from 8am-noon, then 2 laps/hour from noon-8pm, 3 laps/hour from 8pm-2am, and the remaining 14 laps in the last 6 hours.  I didn't think it would shape up exactly like that, and I thought it unlikely I'd make the 60 lap goal, but it would be something to shoot for.

I began the race running with Bren.  We started out a bit fast, first mile around a 8:00 pace, but I needed to burn off a bit of adrenaline anyway.  I was feeling good and moving consistently the first few hours, eating a gel every odd hour and some Ensure and bacon (and getting sprayed with sunscreen) at the 2 hour mark.  I even ended up getting an extra lap in those first 4 hours- 13 laps total.

At the 4 hour mark I was around 28 miles, and I hit my first low point of the race.  It had gotten hot and I wasn't able to get food down, and I panicked.  I started crying, convinced I was about to have a repeat of the SC ultra.  Alec talked me down a bit and helped me change into a white long-sleeved shirt and my wide-brimmed hat.  I got a bottle of Tailwind and headed out on a walking lap.  I was feeling nauseated and upset, but Andy walked with me a bit and he's always a welcome distraction!  By the next lap I was running again.

I was dealing well with the heat with my hat and an icy bandanna, and was able to keep eating and moving at a good pace- after 2 laps in hour 5 I was up to 5 laps every 2 hours.  I hit 50 miles at 7:59 in, which was about a 20 minute PR for me and gave me a bit of a boost.  This whole section is a bit of a blur for me- I mainly ran alone during this section, and I just kept moving, eating, applying sunscreen, and soaking my bandanna.  Throughout the day I also alternated a bottle of water with a bottle of Tailwind, drinking a half bottle per lap.

At 9:41 in I watched Bren hit his 100K split, setting a new state record!  At that point I was one lap behind and I decided to book it to try to get 100K under 10 hours.  No real reason but 9:59 sounds better than 10:01 or whatever!  I managed an 18-minute lap to hit the split at 9:59:15.  That was actually a female age group state record as well, although only by default as there was no time on the books for the 18-34 age group!  After that my quads felt a bit sore (the left one still is a little), so I took an easy lap to recover a bit.  

Alec did a spectacular job crewing for me all day, as always- making sure I was eating and drinking, and keeping me cool throughout the heat.  Katie was a great help as well, and she took over more crew duties as it got closer to 8pm.  Alec was running the 6 hour race from 8pm-2am, and as it was his first ultra he was getting a bit nervous as the start approached.

At the halfway point I was in the middle of lap 33, which was ahead of my schedule still, but I wasn't feeling energetic enough to up my pace to 3 laps per hour so I was happy to have a bit of a buffer.  I switched back to my singlet and visor at this point, and grabbed my headlamp as the sun went down.  I kept at my pace of about 5 laps every 2 hours during this section, and Alec zoomed by a few times as well- he burned himself out a little but ended up killing his race with over 37 miles! Katie walked with me a bit too, which was great company.

Keeping to my steady pace I hit my 100 mile split at 17:09, nearly a 2 hour improvement over Delirium- although to be fair I spent quite a few hours just straight walking during that race.  With nearly 7 hours left in the race it was looking more and more like I would make my goal of 120+ miles.  I got a little emotional thinking about that, crying a little and asking people if this was really happening...

With 6 hours to go I needed 14 more laps to make my 60 lap goal, so I needed to push myself just as I was tempted to slow down.  I whittled away at the laps until I only had to do 2 per hour for the last 2 1/2 hours...during the night I was taking occasional walking breaks and still making laps in under 25 minutes, so I was doing fine on time.

In the last few hours I was in a lot of pain.  I could feel a large blister on the ball of my right foot, and every step I took was killer.  Alec did some laps with me and kept me moving, so I kept powering through at a decent pace although I was also crying a little at the same time.  I held it together for a while, although at one point I just broke down at the aid station and let out a wail...I think some of the people around me were really concerned at that point!  I also started getting really hungry for the first time in hours, and enjoyed a warm pancake from the aid station every few laps.

Finally the sun came up, and I had less than 2 hours to go!  I just kept going, trying to block everything out.  At 7am I was mumbling, "just one more hour, 
one more hour" as I limped/jogged around the track.  Just around 7:30am I headed out on lap 60!  I picked up a bit of a posse at the end to get my partial lap after that- Alec, Sara and Katie came out, plus Verity who had come back to see the end of the race.  There were also some Savannah Striders who came out from the bridge run and cheered me on at the end!  I finished the lap and kept going until the end- Verity counted down the last few minutes as I tried to push up the pace to get as many additional meters as I could.  When she yelled "time" I stopped short and didn't move until Dan got there with the measuring wheel for my official distance.  It was finally over, and I knew I had done over 132 miles- I started sobbing as my friends hugged me.

Once the distance had been measured and documented, Bren drove his truck up and gave me a ride back to the start- I pretty much refused to walk any more!  After getting my buckle and getting ready to go I suddenly got really nauseated and lay down on the ground.  I think that freaked Dan out a bit since he had someone come over with a med kit to check my blood pressure and pulse!  But after a couple minutes I hobbled to the car with Sara's help, while Alec packed up the car.  After all that I went home and pretty much just laid down for the rest of the day.

I'm still just exhausted and emotional and confused about the whole race.  I can't believe it happened, and that I did so well.  I have a hard time thinking of myself as a really good runner, but this race result puts me in the top 10-15 women in the country in the 24-hour.  I have a decent chance at making the national team in 2015.  I'm having a hard time wrapping my head around that.  I recognize I'm in a weird emotional place right now, but hopefully I'll be overjoyed about the race once everything settles back to normal...

I am so thankful to have such amazingly supportive runner friends- there is no way I would have run so well without their help.  I definitely don't think it's a coincidence that I've had my best races while surrounded by my Lowcountry Ultras family.  And of course I am so grateful for my amazing husband...he's gotten really good at this whole crewing thing!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Crewing Fort Clinch

On April 26th I was crew chief for my good friend Sara while she ran the Fort Clinch 100 Mile on Amelia Island in Florida.  It wasn't my first time crewing- I had crewed and paced for my friend Kara at the Mad Marsh 50K.  Not to take anything away from racing a 50K, but a 100 mile is a whole new ultrarunning beast, and crewing for a race that lasts over 24 hours is also a whole new experience!  It helped that my husband Alec was there as well, crewing our friend Bren...since Alec is quite experienced crewing me he was able to impart some of his "crewing rules".  Also at our crewing base camp were Katie (crewing Masumi), and Robert (just generally helping out).

Sara and Bren had planned on running a similar pace, and they actually ended up running the entire race together (all 25 1/2 hours of it!).  This ended up being very convenient- not only were Alec and I able to spend time together between crew duties, it allowed him to pace both Sara and Bren at night.  I was all ready to pace Sara, but within a few miles on the trail I began getting horrible shin splints in my left leg.  I had been feeling fine all week, but I guess the uneven terrain 5 days post-Boston was a bit too much.  I still managed to pace about 13 miles, but I felt guilty I couldn't do more.  But Alec stepped up and paced 35 miles with our friends- a good 8 miles more than he had ever covered before.  So it all worked out.

Basically I saw Sara every 10 miles, filled her bottle (Tailwind at first, and Gatorade later on), gave her several gels, and sprayed her with sunscreen.  When needed I made sure she was eating more food, gave her a icy bandanna, and helped her change clothes.  I also tried to encourage her and keep her spirits up during the tough times.  Afterwards Sara said I really helped her, but honestly I didn't feel like I had to do all that much!  In general, things went very smoothly, and Sara had a great race.  She had a few low points but was never as whiny as I know I've been during ultras ;)

In the end, Sara and Bren crossed the finish line hand-in-hand, which really says so much about the wonderful attitude you see in ultrarunning!  Sara was the 1st female, and Bren was 5th male.  Having gotten in one full lap of the course I can say it was not an easy race!  It also got very hot during the day, and much of the course was exposed to the sun.  I was so proud of how well Sara did- as I said, I didn't have to do much to keep her going!  Obviously I still prefer running ultras to crewing them, but I had a great time, and would definitely do it again.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Boston Marathon

It's been a busy past few weeks, so I'm just now getting the chance to write this post.  To sum it up: Boston was an incredible experience, and I don't think I could have run a better race!  I finished in 3:19:13- a marathon PR by over 5 minutes, my fastest and slowest 5k splits were only 1:05 apart, and the second half was a half marathon PR.  This on a warm sunny day, on a hilly course, having raced 2 24-hour races in the past 2 1/2 months.  I'm normally super hard on myself, but I am stoked about my performance- the fact that it was the 2014 Boston Marathon makes it even more special!

If you have the time to read it, here's the detailed recap:

I woke early Sunday morning for my flight to Boston and arrived there around noon.  My parents met me at the airport and I headed to packet pickup.  It was really crowded and overwhelming- when the number of people at a race scares you more than the actual race, you might be an ultrarunner!  Since it was the last day of the race expo, most small sizes of clothes were gone, and they were out of XS race shirts (even though I had registered for that size, people had been allowed to trade, so I was stuck with a S).  A very small issue in the scheme of things, although given the small size of your typical marathoner I think the BAA should have seen this coming!

By the time I had my race number and met back up with my parents it was mid-afternoon, and I just wanted to figure out dinner plans, do an easy 3-mile run, and settle down in our hotel.  I had my first race-induced meltdown when I realized every Chipotle in Boston was closed for Easter.  With all the traffic in Boston I was super stressed so I asked that we just go to the hotel in Braintree, where I could calm myself down with a treadmill run, and worry about food

later.  I'm sorry to say my nerves made me snap at my parents a few times pre-race, despite their awesome support.  After my run I was much more relaxed, and my parents found a Brasilian steakhouse nearby that had carry out.  I picked up several cuts of beef, ham, turkey, bacon, and some tasty veg- this paleo runner could not have been happier!

I got a decent night's sleep, and after a brief Dunkin stop we headed for the bus pickup in Boston.  I had another meltdown when my dad, who was driving, got a little lost on the way...once again, so sorry Dadums!  When we got downtown, I asked a policeman if we were close.  When he said we were, I said goodbye to my parents, got out of the car and started walking.  I wasn't exactly sure where I was going, and meltdown #3 occurred when the volunteer I questioned was even less informed about the buses than I was.  Luckily I bumped into a couple
 of runners and followed them to the buses before my tears got too out of control.

I boarded my bus at 7:30, and sat down next to a woman named Claire from Ottawa, Canada.  I enjoyed talking to her on the hour long ride, and she invited me to wait with her two friends until we entered the corrals around 10.  I had a great time just hanging out with them, and I think it helped me relax more too.  It was just that kind of atmosphere- we were all soon-to-be friends, and no one was really alone!  It definitely made the crowd of thousands at Hopkinton less overwhelming.  

When it was time to go, I discarded my Goodwill fleece, shoved a bunch of gels in my sports bra (the plan was one every 5 miles), and lined up with Claire in corral 5 of wave 2.  We were packed in tight and it still didn't quite seem like I was finally about to run the Boston Marathon, 16 months after qualifying.  When
 the signal came for our wave to start it took about three minutes for me to cross the starting timing pad, but then I was off!  I had heard that people go out too fast in the first few downhill miles, but being in the middle of my wave I feared the opposite.  I think many people came to enjoy themselves, not to race, so I 
had to stick to the outer edges of the road and pass a lot of runners to keep to my goal pace.  I tried not to bump into anyone, but there were a few times 
I needed to make some pretty sharp cuts to avoid getting stuck (thanks rugby training!).

From the very beginning there were spectators lining the streets- whole families, the children with their arms out to get high fives from as many runners as they could.  And looking downhill a sea of runners filling the road as far as I could see.  It was a bit scary, but incredibly moving as well!  I hit the first 5k 
mark at just under 24 minutes- perfect for my goal of sub-8 with a bit of buffer. Immediately after I had to skid off the course to tie my shoe- luckily they stayed tied after that, although I glanced down periodically to check.  Around mile 8 (I
think...the race is a bit of a blur) we passed through the main street of Natlick- one of the most moving parts of the race for me.  It was a tunnel of noisy, 
joyous spectators, some holding signs saying "Today, you're the heroes!"...and at that moment, it felt like I was.  I got a bit choked up there.

I maintained my splits, and passed the halfway mark at just over 1:40, which was almost the same as Jacksonville, and perfect for my goals.  But I was starting to feel a little fatigued, and it was now past noon, and getting hot.  I also knew there were some big hills coming up, and I didn't know how much they might slow me down.  I had been sticking to my plan of a gel every 5 miles, and water at each station, but now I began drinking a few sips and 
pouring what was left over my head and the back of my neck.  That felt great!

The hills began around mile 15, and I reminded myself to take small quick steps on the uphill, and relax into the downhill to use it as a bit of a recovery.  
Glancing at my Garmin showed I was keeping to my sub-8 pace even going uphill, and seeing all the runners I was passing gave me a morale boost as well. Just before 25k I looked ahead and saw my good friend Kelly- she has a prosthetic leg and races in the mobility impaired division (which starts early), so I knew there was a chance I would see her as I passed by.  That gave me a huge boost as I yelled "Kelllllllyyyy!", while she turned and we raised our hands to each other :)

Throughout the second half I just kept taking it one mile at a time, and once I passed Heartbreak Hill (which was honestly not that bad and kind of anti-climatic
) I knew I could start counting down to the end.  I actually enjoyed the second half more despite the heat and hills- the hills switched up the course and kept things interesting, and the runners had spread out enough where I didn't feel overwhelmed.  

Once I got to 35k I realized there was a very good chance I would PR- the hills had barely slowed me down.  I had scented the barn and was hauling my butt home!  The 35-40k was my fastest 5k of the race, 22:57.  By 40k, I knew I had a shot at breaking 3:20, if I could maintain my pace.  By this point the crowd was bigger than ever, and although I blocked them out a bit to stay focused, all the energy pushed me even harder through my fatigue.  At the 25 mile mark I rounded the corner and heard "Lara!!!!!" mom isn't exactly known for being quiet, and her voice cut right through the crowd!  I couldn't slow down enough to see my parents, but I did turn slightly and wave.  It made me so happy to know they were there cheering for me.

At 1k to go we passed under a little overpass- at that point nothing was going to stop me.  I turned onto the home stretch and I could see the finish line!  My legs were definitely feeling the burn but I pushed as hard as I could until I crossed the finish.  I started gasping and crying a bit then, it was such an emotional time.  I saw a stranger crying and yelling as he finished...I don't even know if he spoke English, but I put my arm around him, said "You did great", and we hugged.  I don't know if I've ever experienced such a feeling of coming together with thousands of "strangers", who weren't really strangers at all.  At that point I still wasn't sure of my finish time; since I crossed the timing mat after the start of the wave, the clock wasn't accurate for my chip time.  But I knew I had PR'd, run a great race, and been part of an amazing experience.

After the race I met up with my parents and we walked to their car.  I had my medal on and was wrapped in a Boston Marathon space blanket, so almost everyone who we passed congratulated me.  It was pretty surreal.  I was hoping to meet up with an old college friend who lived downtown (and use his shower!), but the road blocks made everything so complicated that I ended up just going straight to the airport.  I did at least change clothes in the bathroom, but it still wasn't too pleasant.  With a little time to kill I treated myself to a beer at the airport bar, and chatted with a few people there.  One of them then bought me a second drink, so I was feeling pretty good by time I boarded my flight!  

I didn't get home until after midnight Monday- I had only been in Boston for about 30 hours, but it was more than worth it.  I had thought I would only run the Boston Marathon once, but after such a great experience, and since I'm already re-qualified, I'm pretty sure I'll be back next year.  Plus, my brother just ran a 3:03 marathon, so it looks my parents can go cheer for both their children next year!  I definitely plan to schedule things so I have a good 3-4 days to enjoy Boston next time though :)